Soufriere, St. Lucia (July 29, 2011). World Ranger Day is commemorated on July 31 by national parks around the world. In the Caribbean, let’s take this chance to honour the dedication and passion of the rangers and wardens who work in our region’s marine protected areas - rangers who are at the frontline in protecting the marine environment that we love, such as the Chief Ranger from the Soufriere Marine Management Area in St. Lucia who we profile here.
The Soufriere Marine Management Area is home to the best dive sites in St. Lucia and Chief Ranger Peter Butcher tells us about the work that is required to protect this prized marine area.
“As a ranger, my daily routine includes patrolling the SMMA to make sure visitors follow the regulations of each zone. We ensure that yachts are correctly tied up to the moorings, collect mooring fees and provide regular weather updates. We also provide sailors with information about the SMMA and Soufriere and act as ambassadors for St. Lucia”.
Rangers are also enforcement officers and are Special Police Constables with powers of arrest. Marine Reserves are established by law to protect coral reef and associated fish. No fishing or extractive activities are allowed.
Peter explains “We patrol the Marine Reserves to ensure no illegal activities are taking place, like spear fishing and pot fishing. Gillnets are also banned in the SMMA and trammel nets are banned in St. Lucia. We keep an eye out for any of these prohibited fishing gears in all zones in the SMMA.”
This is important for the sustainable use of St. Lucia’s fisheries. He describes the positive impact of protection on fish stocks “We now know that the Soufriere Marine Management Association is doing a good job to protect the marine reserves because fishers have seen the benefits in increased fish catches in the adjacent Fishing Priority Areas”.
Soufriere is the tourism mecca in St. Lucia and visitors come to enjoy the warm tropical blue waters, black sand beaches and amazing coral reef life. As a member of the national Watercraft Advisory Committee, the Soufriere Marine Management Association ensures that vessels are insured and meet required safety standards to carry passengers and undertake recreational activities in the protected areas.
Peter says “We monitor VHF16 throughout the day and receive calls for assistance at all hours.” As part of their role, rangers are sometimes called upon to assist users in distress.
“I have responded to many may-day calls, including one to help a vessel which was taking on water about three nautical miles offshore. On another occasion, I assisted first responders in evacuating a female sailor who had suffered a head injury from a swinging boom at 3am. Most recently, I transported a young woman who was in labour to Castries via boat after the passage of Hurricane Tomas since landslides had blocked all road access out of Soufriere”.
When asked what he likes about working in the SMMA, Peter lights up as he says “I love interacting with persons from all around the world who visit the SMMA and I love SCUBA diving.” He is a PADI certified Divemaster with hundreds of dives logged.
He also says “The Association has given me many opportunities to gain skills and expertise such as dive certification training and underwater Crime Scene Investigation training”.
The Soufriere Marine Management Association realizes that a network of MPAs in the wider Caribbean is important in protecting our associated marine species, especially following the 1980s Diadema antillarum mass mortality and the more recent invasion of lionfish in our region. As such, we welcome opportunities to build the capacity of other MPAs in the region. Last year, the SMMA undertook training of staff from Grenada’s Sandy Island/Oyster Bed Marine Protected Area in mooring installation and maintenance with Peter as the lead instructor.
What can you and I do to help? The SMMA Chief Ranger replied, “We welcome volunteers to help in scientific monitoring. All users, including visitors and fishers, must respect the regulations to protect our marine resources for the benefit of future generations”.
The Soufriere Marine Management Area is located on the south-west coast of St. Lucia. White cylindrical demarcation buoys delineate the boundaries of the Marine Reserves which starts from the high-water mark down to the 75m depth contour. No anchoring is allowed in the Marine Reserves as white mooring buoys with blue reflective stripe have been installed for use by yachts. Anchoring is permitted only in areas with sandy bottoms. Rangers will be happy to guide you to these areas if necessary. Red mooring buoys are installed for use by local dive boats. Please do not discharge any ballast water or throw any litter overboard during your stay in the SMMA.
For more information about Soufriere Marine Management Area see www.smma.org.lc or email smma[at]candw.lc. For more information about the Caribbean Marine Protected Areas Management Network and Forum (CaMPAM), see http://campam.gcfi.org/campam.php or email emma.doyle[at]gcfi.org.